An Introvert Walks into a Conference

I joined the board of a professional organization, which I mention only as a way to explain why I went out of town this weekend.  First, let me start with a story of personal disappointment.  I had my ticket to Galaxy Quest Vol. 2. I had it for over a month, and when I heard I had to give up said ticket to dress like I was going to work over an entire weekend, and sleep on an uncomfy bed in a haunted hotel my brain nearly imploded.  Suddenly GotG vol. 2 (yes, I’m way too lazy to retype the title, and too lazy to cut and paste; however, I’m apparently not too lazy to type all these words explaining it) became THE most important thing I ever wanted to see. Two things had to happen once I heard that news: 1) I had to convince myself this was not a meltdown worthy event (every disappointment post Jay’s death teeters on being meltdown worthy, and many tears have been shed over some very small things), and 2) I had to not actively stink-eye the person who told me this out-of-town regional meeting was this next weekend. (The 5th is not the 12th, person!!!!) Both of those became challenging. Keep it together, Beth!  And despite promises that this really wasn’t a great movie, or suggestions that I could easily wait for it to come out on TV, I still feel I missed out on having a shared experience with that group of folks, enjoying the badness together, laughing over everyone’s humorous yet scathing reviews. No business card can replace those missed moments.

I arrived at the hotel a little early and prepared for my first session – a “new board members go here, try to get out of your comfort zone, and meet new people” session. I took this quite seriously, and despite being both an introvert, and also very shy (yay, double-whammies) I decided I had to make my best effort. You see, I’m also a rule follower, and they said “go forth, meet people” so I had to suck up how much I dreaded it to do as told. I sauntered into the room, mostly empty, and plopped right down next to two folks, donned my best smile (which in hindsight must be way creepier than I thought), and said, “Hello, I’m Beth! Is it ok if I join you? I’m from Austin!” The woman next to me literally picked up her chair and moved closer to the gentleman she was with. Wow. In fact, now that I think about it, she never said anything directly to me. The gentleman and I exchanged some pleasantries. I learned they were both from Dallas. I shared that my family was also from Dallas, but you could tell the whole exchange was painful for everyone. Then they literally both got up and moved somewhere else. Awkward. At that point a former supervisor of mine, who had sat down next to me in the middle of this conversation, looked at me rather surprised, and just said, “ok….”

There was a mixed bag of really good exchanges, and bad.  My favorite being with a gentleman from Little Rock who said, “Beth, wow me.” Ummm… I have a pretty low wow-factor score. I couldn’t think of any wow-iness I possessed, but finally settled on, (while he waited patiently wondering if I might be the dullest person he’d ever run into in his 60+ years of life) “I’ve done improv, sketch writing, performed in sketches, and lately those performances involve hard living/foul-mouthed puppets.” You know, the things you take credit for doing when you’re attending a conference focused on business professionals where most conversations involve ROI’s and Tourette-ing out things like, “SCRUM!” and “AGILE!” Nothing quite says, I’m a professional adult who should be taken seriously like declaring you spend your free time with your hand covered in felt and googly eyes. Right?  Points because he remembered my name throughout the conference. Not sure if that’s a good thing to be remembered by. Although,I will say he started our initial conversation by pronouncing himself a hermit, and saying that he and his wife were retirees who actively tried to avoid people. His pronouncement of not enjoying people helped me feel safe with my improv/sketch confessions.

Another exchange that really stood out occurred when I sat down at a back table. The seat next to me had a conference totebag in it, a clear sign it was being saved, and that I’d likely meet someone new. I was following the rules, and obviously on a new person meeting roll! GO ME! Then beyond that empty seat sat a young woman named Kimberly. It turned out that we both serve in the same areas of our various boards, and our personalities meshed fairly well.  We chattered away as I flung conference materials around in front of me before digging around for my lovely conference logo-ed pen. You know the kind where the ink is destined to dry out by conference’s end? (In truth what I thought looked like I was cool and neatly laying out the things I needed probably looked like my conference bag exploded on the table, but I like to pretend.) The missing person arrived, and stood there between Kimberly and myself, eyeing us uncomfortably, then finally said in a defeated manner, “if you two want to talk, I can move somewhere else – I don’t want to get in your way.” Ummm… soooo… that was awkward… shockingly awkward.  We were all supposed to network – meet new people – the rules said so.  Anyway, there was a lot of reassurance involved to get her to finally sit. I may have then politely mocked her, like I do, because well… what a ridiculous question.  Yes, we are here to network, but… oh dear, not with you. You’re the one exception. Who would ever say that? If I felt that way, I would have done what any normal person would do – you know, awkwardly move my chair away, and then tap the person next to me so we could silently flee to a different table.

After two full days of solid networking by shaking countless hands, enthusiastically saying my name like I was announcing an exciting ice cream flavor or your favorite sports team (GO BEARS! (FYI – Tori shout out #2)), and passing out business cards like I was a Vegas dealer, I was done – like super done. My introvert battery was drained, and the battery that keeps me from acting shy was rocking slowly in a corner sucknig its thumb. So, at the evening function with drinks and heavy hors d’oeuvres, I did the only thing any normal introvert would do – I abruptly got up and wandered back to my hotel where no amount of coaxing could convince me to re-open my door. I didn’t even mind that it appeared rather spectrum-y (an adjective) on my part.

On the last day at the last session I found a table by myself. A personal coups! Of course, this victory was quickly followed by concerned texts from my extroverted friends in the room, “Beth… why are you sitting by yourself? Are you ok?” “I’m an introvert. I’m totally owning it today.” And just as I thought I might actually sit alone, and likely be invited by the speaker to join another table, two quiet sorts made their way over. Ahhh… my tribe. We found each other at last.  If you sit there, they will come. We continued to sit quietly, listening to the speaker, and then parted ways. (Well, ok… not before THEY betrayed me and started passing out their business cards. Their action led to my final awkward moment whereby I went running around trying to discover where I’d stashed mine. Treacherous tribe. Couldn’t just quietly nod to one another and dissolve into the crowd. Pfft.)

That was my weekend. Now I need to sit quietly in the dark for a few days.

PS. Huge thanks to April for pet-sitting. I admit that every time I leave, I am actually convinced something bad is going to happen, that texts of “everything is fine” are only written to keep me calm until I get home and the bad news can be shared.  Thanks for making sure everything was actually fine.

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